Local food demand growing faster than infrastructure, USDA finds

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Local food

Local food demand growing faster than infrastructure, USDA finds
Local food infrastructure needs to deepen to ensure production can grow in line with consumer demand, which may be greater than previously thought, according to a new report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS).

The report​, “Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States”​, examined data from the 2008 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) and found that marketing of local foods grossed $4.8bn in 2008, when both direct-to-consumer and intermediated marketing channels are taken into account.

Although locally grown food still accounts for a relatively small proportion of US food sales, the report said that its latest sales estimate was about four times higher than earlier estimates, because it took into account more than just direct-to-consumer sales.

“Local food sales via intermediated marketing channels are an important component of the industry that has not previously been extensively studied,”​ the report said.

It found that most local foods are sold through intermediated channels, such as grocers, restaurants and other retailers, accounting for about 50%-66% of local food sales. However, it also found regional variations, with most locally grown food sold on the West Coast and the Northeastern regions of the United States.

“Policy decisions that foster local food sales must account for the importance of vital, but unalterable, regional characteristics, such as climate, water availability, and access to densely populated markets, which affect the viability of local foods as an economic development tool,”​ the report said.

Large farms, defined as having annual revenue of more than $250,000, accounted for 92 percent of the value of local food sales marketed exclusively through intermediated channels, the ERS said. At the other end of the spectrum, small farms, defined as having annual revenue of less than $50,000, accounted for 81% of farms reporting local food sales in 2008, and were more likely to rely on direct-to-consumer marketing outlets, such as roadside stalls and farmers’ markets.

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